Back in 2020, law enforcement agents across Europe had a major breakthrough in their fight against organised crime. They managed to crack into EncroChat – a secure encrypted messaging service which ran on modified Android phones, that promised “worry-free secure communications”.
EncroChat’s customers were almost all criminals, who had no qualms about buying a encrypted phone from EncroChat (for roughly £1000), and then pay a hefty subscription for continued use of the system.
EncroChat handsets even came with a “panic” option where just entering a 4 digit code could delete all of your data, supposedly messing up any attempts by police to gather evidence of your wrongdoing.
But investigators managed to gain full control of EncroChat’s infrastructure, and could read users’ supposedly-encrypted messages in real-time.
Law enforcement agents were able to intercept over 115 million conversations between criminals, by an estimated 60,000 users. Europol says that the surveillance helped “prevent violent attacks, attempted murders, corruption and large-scale drug transports, as well as obtain large-scale information on organised crime.”
According to Europol, the dismantling of EncroChat has resulted in 6.558 arrests to date (including 197 high-value targets) – with the seizure of close to 900 million Euros, and hundreds of tonnes of drugs. To date, criminals convicted as a result of the evidence gathered from EncroChat face a total of 7,134 years of imprisonment.
As you can hear on this episode of the “Smashing Security” podcast, one EncroChat user was identified after he sent a photo of his pet dog via the service (perhaps not realising that the dog’s pet tag was revealing a phone number that he should have probably kept private.)
In another hilarious case, a drug dealer from Liverpool was identified after he sent a picture via Encrochat of some mature Stilton blue cheese he was buying at a supermarket.
What he didn’t realise, as we describe in a different episode of the “Smashing Security” podcast, was that the photo showed enough of his palm and fingertips for Merseyside police to identify him.
Imagine believing you’re a big cheese in the world of crime, and to be caught out in such a way…